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Mech Ageing Dev. 2008 Jan-Feb;129(1-2):35-47. Epub 2007 Nov 19.

The role of telomere biology in bone marrow failure and other disorders.

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Clinical Genetics Branch, Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, Rockville, MD 20892, United States.


Telomeres, consisting of nucleotide repeats and a protein complex at chromosome ends, are essential in maintaining chromosomal integrity. Dyskeratosis congenita (DC) is the inherited bone marrow failure syndrome (IBMFS) that epitomizes the effects of abnormal telomere biology. Patients with DC have extremely short telomere lengths (<1st percentile) and many have mutations in telomere biology genes. Interpretation of telomere length in other IBMFSs is less straightforward. Abnormal telomere shortening has been reported in patients with apparently acquired hematologic disorders, including aplastic anemia, myeolodysplasia, paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria, and leukemia. In these disorders, the shortest-lived cells have the shortest telomeres, suggestive of increased hematopoietic stress. Telomeres are also markers of replicative and/or oxidative stress in other complex disease pathways, such as inflammation, stress, and carcinogenesis. The spectrum of related disorders caused by mutations in telomere biology genes extends beyond classical DC to include marrow failure that does not respond to immunosuppression, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, and possibly other syndromes. We suggest that such patients be categorized as having an inherited disorder of telomere biology. Longitudinal studies of patients with very short telomeres but without classical DC are necessary to further understand the long-term sequelae, such as malignancy, osteonecrosis/osteoporosis, and pulmonary and liver disease.

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